My first real full day off since arriving here, I decided to head out to Arashiyama toward the North West of the city. Taking a train from Kyoto main station I got a return ticket, thankfully I remembered the Kanji for Kyoto so could tell which ticket was which! Working out which train to take seemed fairly straightforward, though before boarding I managed to ask a conductor if it was the right train in Japanese. So off to Arashiyama it was!
Arrival in Arashiyama
The train journey in didn’t take to long as I think I was on the rapid which only stopped at a handful of other stations, the tracks were higher than the city streets so it was a cool way to see more of Kyoto.
At the station they had a map pinned up showing what was around the area, making a mental note of everything I was about to head off when I heard a rare conversation happening in English! Being curious I listened in a bit and heard it was two American tourists & a English speaking tourist from the Philippines trying to understand the map (which I didn’t think was that difficult). Playing the good samaritan I decided to offer my help and tell me they could tag along with me to the first location, didn’t know where I was going but I was fairly certain I could get there without getting lost!
Along the way the guy from the Philippines parted ways, I got talking with the Americans who had been in Kansai for about a week, we talked mostly about how amazing Japan was. Initially I had been aiming to lead us all to the famous bamboo groves, however I ended up first setting sights upon the stunning looking Togetsuyoko bridge. (Which I’ve just learnt from Wikipedia is ‘The moon crossing bridge’ where the river splits into two names each side, Hozu river & Katsura river). This is where I parted ways with the Americans as I pointed them toward the bamboo grove while I decided I had to cross the bridge and head toward Iwatayama Monkey Park!
Iwatayama Monkey Park
I spent a lot of time on and around the bridge area just taking in the relaxing flow of the river and admiring the landscape, you could see mountains all around with the City in the distance downriver. It really is a place to go, pictures and words can’t explain how amazing it is.
The area around the bridge felt like ancient Japan, lots of traditional buildings, bridges, river boats, and people wearing traditional Kimonos. Aside from the English speakers I’d met earlier there were very few foreigners around (which was great). After wandering around the local village and area I headed up to see some monkeys!
I paid a small entrance fee of about 500 yen at the base of the mountain, again please that I was able to now buy things with my Japanese now at a ‘shop’ level. I was given a warning leaflet showing to not look the monkeys in the eyes, take photos directly, get close to them or do anything, I was starting to think they were going to be killer monkeys. But a sign I came across after entering indicated this was all just a bit of fun.
Yes, that’s right the path up the mountain was a high five area, the rule was high five everyone you come across going the other way! Because, Japan! Sadly no one seemed to pay attention to this and I only got to high five two people.
Reaching the top of the mountain I was greeted by one of the staff who was sat there keeping an eye on the monkeys to make sure they didn’t get to aggressive. The area at the top contained a cabin for rest and refreshments, the monkey feeding area, a small pond with some massive Koi, an incredible view over Kyoto, and of course, monkeys everywhere!
The monkeys outside were happy wandering around, if they looked like they were going to be trouble then a staff member chased them away back down the mountain a little. They were very active, climbing the rest cabin and running about. After taking in the view from the mountain I headed into the cabin for a top up on coffee, and to my joy discovered that they had WiFi!
The first monkey to take the food I’d brought was a greedy little guy, happy to stuff his face with as much as possible! Most of them just hung on the outside of the building eating the food as you gave it to them. They would happily reach in and take it from your hands.
When the food ran out they would still stay hung to the side sticking their arm through while waiting for more. Occasionally they’d pull some funny faces to.
Deciding it was time to move on I went back outside to grab a few more photos before parting ways and heading back down.
Wish shrine and Senko-Ji temple.
On arrival back at the base of the mountain, I came across a small shrine area, which from years of watching anime I had recognised as a shrine where you write a wish and hang it up. I donated some money into the box and quickly jotted a wish down to wish my friend a great year, then decided to head off down river.
I didn’t actually know where the river led, all I knew is it would be a good walk and that it was peaceful as no one else seemed to be walking down it. About 1km later I reached the end of the trail and found this sign at the base of some steps.
After seeing such a legit looking sign I had to continue and see what was up there, though part of me did think this was the typical sign and trap that someone would lay down during a zombie apocalypse!!!
Reaching the top I was greeted by a monk who managed to talk to a little with my broken Japanese, but as it turns out he spoke English as well so we had a conversation that jumped between the two languages, with him wanting to practice English and me wanting to practice Japanese.
He showed me to a shrine and showed me the correct way to burn some incense & pay my respects, after doing so he took me to a cabin on the side of the mountain, explaining that I’d arrived at Senko Ji temple. The view from the cabin was another amazing view, while the monk also explained the history of some artifacts in the cabin as well as the temple.
Time to head off again, I thanked the monk and set off back down the mountain. The monk let me ring the shrine bell a few times before leaving, which was a really great experience.
Journey to the bamboo grove
Having heard so much of the bamboo groves I was keen to see them so made my way back down river to go and find them. The journey back down river was relaxing and calming, there really isn’t any stress here at all, it’s all so tranquil.
Heading toward the bamboo grove I ended up walking down probably the coolest street I’ve ever seen. It was packed full of traditional food bars, vendors and shops, bustling with lots of people again in traditional kimonos. It was one of those moments that made me realise where I was.
I stopped on the way to pick up a very late lunch as I hadn’t eaten all day, I opted for some form of chicken on skew which was really filling. Just round the corner I stumbled across the kimono trail which was a short walk of kimono material that had been rolled into columns.
After a few more detours it was time to finally head to the bamboo grove!
The bamboo grove
I’d heard a lot about the grove and initially I was a bit disappointed, but as it turns out that’s because though I’d found bamboo paths, it wasn’t actually the grove! After pushing further on I came across the grove, which really is an visual experience.
The bamboo is really really high and really dense to the sides. I arrived near the end of day so there was still some sunlight, but in areas it was really dark in the grove which was a cool effect. It felt like a location you’d get in a JRPG.
The grove was packed full of hidden gems like lots of little shrines and smaller pathways into some bamboo sections. After some more wandering and sights the sun was almost gone and a lot of the temples were closing for the day, so it was time to head back and tackle more another day.